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ON FRIENDSHIP
By KATHARINE

SCHERMERHORN

OLIVER

Measured against the frailties and exposures of humanity,


what a friend a piano is after all! Taken in its own right it claims
attention-always ready to fit in to your mood without intruding
more of its own personality than time and usage have made obvious, always calm, strong, and helpful. In return for a thousand
voicings of your despair, helplessness, solemnity, humor, joy, it
asks nothing. The self-effacement of my piano makes me long to
push it out in the air, to give it a view of the blowaway tree that
it just misses,-to perform any of the hundred attentions that
you would give to a friend that couldn't move about. I could
dust indefinitely that my piano should have a shining morning
face. And I count the man inhuman and no musician who will
pile his bound Beethoven sonatas, hymnals and opera scores
upon his aching piano's back. There is the slightest excuse if
he pleads warmth, but he must have heard of velvet. And surely
he should consider sound waves. But perhaps he has no right
to have a piano. So many people haven't, and so many people
own them. They are (Heaven help that piano's pride!) for the
children to practice on; or, and I can scarcely bring myself to
write it, they are for "looks." Now the soul of a piano with
its depths and shadows and subtleties is no light thing to trifle
with. It can be approached gently and treated intelligently, and
presently with shy eyes but abounding enthusiasm it will spring
to you to be your willing friend on all except perhaps rainy days.
It has the reviled and coveted and misquoted artistic temperament. As a salient characteristic of the latter, the weather
affects its soul along with its body. A cold will cause the loss
of all its sunny serenity of mind. But each piano is different-it
is ignorant to generalize.
I remember when our first Steinway grand came. The family,
losing individual acumen when together, thought and talked in
chorus. With the expressman-the servant of the new visitorstill there, with traveling togs and gear about its heels, they
pushed and prodded me to "try it." And I would not. I am
pleased to this day when I recall the fact that I did not touch
the keys at all, but slipped away behind taller figures. A second
later I heard a Chopin waltz crashing out, and fled farther away
in distress, feeling for the piano. Late that night when the
family were interested in other things I made my way to the
high bench and clambered up; and there in the caln of order and
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On Friendship

603

decency I played "Der Dichter Spricht" of the Kinderscenen.


And I felt rewarded. Those liquid pure tones assured me that
I had done well, and that when I asked I should have balm for
the soul and peace to the mind. When I leave my piano in these
later days I play "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind," but when
I return to it Schumann's perfect notes assure me of usefulness
in life and joy in living it.
Not every piano will so respond. There is the old square
piano in the country where we sometimes go to see our great
grand-mother's home. It is a very dear friend, but old and tired
and can not help grumbling a little. You have to treat it very
gently and quickly. It likes best the Grieg "Spring Song" and
"Anitra's Tanz" or something tinkling and imitative like the
de S6v6rac "Dancing Doll on the Music Box." You must amuse
it, and so it can only receive a short visit each day; for one can
not be always amusing. It is too bad that it is getting childish,
but the pride that came into being with the consciousness of
development in usefulness and subtlety over its ancestors is not
lost. I don't mean to say that those who had gone before were
not honored. You can not see an ancient spinet or clavichord
to-day, weak, tinkling, discouraged as they are at often being
locked up in cases devoid from companionship and expression,
without knowing that some of their pride is still there and fed
by the honor given them by every piano created since. They
scorn indeed these "nouveau riche" clavichords, gold and white
affairs with mottos like "La Douceur fait plus que la Violence,"
that Chickering assures you are exact imitations. Imitations
indeed-that is the word that hurts. The real clavichords remember their old days under sunny Italian skies before Cristofori
ever lived, when black-eyed musicians, and ladies in satins and
pearls, rippled arias across their ivory keys. Or they think perhaps
of some French court where they stood in state, rich in gold and
gay pictures on their backs, of ladies reclining beneath feathery
trees, while in golden candlelight Couperin, or better still Rameau,
ran his supple fingers across their keys in a dozen variations on
a given theme.
But all of us do not appreciate family trees. I've met many
I will
a piano-complaining,
loud, truly almost vulgar-that
wager never guessed at a French court or a piano before itself
for that matter. Such a piano has no right indeed to the family
name, suggested, they say, since the liquid ripples that came
from the first of the line reminded Cristofori or some other old
Italian of that tinkling stream between Menagio and Porlezzo

604

The Musical Quarterly

that is called the Piano. And since the little stream only told
half of the story, the name became Pianoforte. No, the bourgeoisie, the middle-class pianos can better boast their Christian
appellations. One can grant them a quota of legitimate pride
when they are put next to the masses, the unthinking, the pianolas.
Only their scorn had best lie unexpressed-that lion of the populace, the Welte-Mignon is a r&dical of no meagre pretentions.
But it is a detached, abstracted radical-and such a one can
never win the heart of the people. If you have seen Harold
Bauer walk up to his piano and lay his hands on it, you will know
how he loves it. And Paderewski, too, in a more domineering
way. He will not tolerate a draft or a speck of dust on his. And
Percy Grainger just enfolds his piano with a halo of sunshine.
Most of these artists always take their own pianos about with
them. I have often wanted to be great, that I might take mine
on a trip and give it the honor that it deserves. As it is, I can
only keep it well dusted and surrounded with glowing pictures
and flowers. Perhaps love for it, perhaps jealousy, perhaps just
interest in making friends makes, me long to know every piano
that I see. If you do not play you will never know the agony
of sitting in a room where people are saying stupid things while
you are longing to know the piano. If they would leave, if you
could outstay them, if you could get up and play-but you do
not want to play for them. If they ask you it is a slight relief,
unless you do not feel like playing, which they can not understand;
or unless they say: "I hope you will excuse the piano, it is rather
out of tune, or very old." Very old, you can bear best-some
old people are very fascinating-but out of tune, out of its mind!
oh! heavens, would they take you to an asylum to meet some
friends? Do they think you have no feelings of pity and personal
pride? Ah, but you are glad to come home to your own piano.
No matter how many small sisters have been "doing Czerny"
and small brothers stumbling at one finger bugle-calls, it will
answer to your need. It will melt into some intimate Brahms
intermezzo or Scriabine nocturne. It will give you the brilliance
of Chopin, the honesty of Bach, or the glorious strength of
Cesar Franck. If we know our pianos and love them, and feel
with them-what divine melodies shall we not find for ourselves
and others? The joy of ensemble that leaps higher and higher
with each piano, violin, and 'cello that joins the group, is here
in small measure. We are not alone in an empty room or in a
crowded auditorium if we know our piano. We have a friend
indeed.